When A's GM and part owner Billy Beane fired his very close friend Bob Geren as manager on Thursday, Beane was doing what was necessary for the organization. Geren had lost the clubhouse, according to people with A's ties who spoke anonymously on Thursday. In making the announcement, Beane cited the need to put the focus back on the field, "where it belongs." The A's players had become distracted by saga of Geren, but importantly, it had become clear they weren't necessarily on the manager's side in the saga.
Geren was in tough spot from the start, as players and outsiders alike viewed him as something of a teacher's pet in that he was Beane's best man at his wedding and unlikely to be a candidate to manage anywhere else. Respected reliever Brian Fuentes, who said publicly that he had "zero communication'' with Geren in a brash criticism that revealed utter disdain from at least one veteran player, apparently was far from the only player who thought Geren needed help on his communication skills. While Fuentes apologized, as he should have, for voicing his criticisms publicly, that didn't mean he was wrong in his message. It was the combination of those feelings from many A's players emerging at a time the club was on a nine-game losing streak that forced Beane to whack someone who formerly had the appearance of a made man. (The losing streak hit 10 with a 9-4 loss to the White Sox in new manager Bob Melvin's first game at the helm.)
Beane declined to answer when asked on a conference call Thursday whether A's sought him out to voice their concerns about Geren's communication skills or other issues. But he probably didn't need to speak to too many current players. It was an open secret Geren was not well-respected within his clubhouse, and while Beane waved away former A's closer Huston Street's brutal dig at Geren to the San Francisco Chronicle as "one player from three years ago'' in an interview a week earlier with SI, Beane was smart enough to know it wasn't nearly just Fuentes and Street, who by the way are two very well-respected pitchers. As unhappy as A's players were that Geren was their manager, competing executives had the opposite outlook about the situation with Geren, one of whom called Geren "a borderline guarantee they wouldn't be good.''
The idea to hire one's semi-qualified good friend wasn't a smart one even if the friend is an otherwise ideal candidate, which Geren was quite apparently not. But at least Beane was smart enough to not to compound the mistake by keeping Geren until the end of his contract (which runs out at season's end), as many, including me, figured he might. Geren appeared on his way to a fifth straight non-winning season after the club had posted eight straight winning seasons with someone else at the helm, though fairly, part of that is attributable to a natural rebuilding cycle for the small-revenue team. This was a wise call by Beane, and perhaps not a moment too soon -- though Beane stopped well short of predicting an immediate turnaround in light of the team's abject injury problems, which worsened with the revelation that talented young starter Brett Anderson is seeing doctors about his arm.
New A's manager Melvin is being called an ''interim" manager at present by the A's. But since he left a job with an organization he still embraces in Arizona for this role, his full-time hiring is probably a little more than a formality. "We felt somewhat fortunate a guy of Bob's stature and credibility was available to us,'' Beane said, revealing a respect not usually accorded interims. Besides being a long-established major league manager who guided the Diamondbacks to the 2007 NLCS, Melvin carries the advantage of being a Palo Alto native and Cal-Berkeley alum.
This was the type of move Beane should have made nearly five years ago when he elevated his buddy Geren, a boyhood friend from San Diego, from the A's coaching ranks. Beane is often correctly credited as being one of the smartest men in the game (the movie Moneyball will be out this summer to confirm this) but that wasn't too swift a move. Geren is no dummy and knows the game well ("a great baseball man,'' Beane said yesterday in a proper defense to a question about his friend), but he was on no one else's radar as an up-and-coming manager. Melvin makes more sense. He's a guy with two past managerial stints on his resume and a rep as a get-along guy, someone players like. A's player Conor Jackson, a former Diamondback under Melvin, enthusiastically endorsed the move.
One rap occasionally heard about Melvin in Arizona was that, if anything, he may have been a tad too amenable or conciliatory to the thoughts of higher-ups. If that's the case, that ought to fit in well with the A's, where the strong belief is that Beane maintains unusual input. He needs a guy like Theo Epstein has in Boston in Terry Francona, a man who will enthusiastically carry out his ideas while appearing strong and supportive in a clubhouse full of egos. Melvin could be exactly that guy.
This doesn't look like a big year for managerial firings, and in fact Geren might be the only one this year. But there are a few managers who could have at least a small worry about whether they make it to next year such as these fellows ...
1. Jim Riggleman, Nationals. Riggleman is a terrific, stand-up guy who deserves a chance to be there when Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper emerge next year. But his contract only goes through the year, and it's possible someone might have to pay for the Nationals' so-so performance. Higher-ups really shouldn't have expected too much with a rotation of mostly No. 5 starters (Jordan Zimmerman is an obvious exception, and of course the otherworldly talent Strasburg, once he returns from Tommy John surgery, is as well). But the $126 million expenditure for Jayson Werth, no matter how overpriced, brought some added expectations, even if they were unreasonable, and Washington is just 27-36 and last in the NL East.
2. Edwin Rodriguez, Marlins. He knew going in that he wasn't promised a thing, as he only got to keep the job he already held after the Marlins failed to acquire Ozzie Guillen in trade or sign Bobby Valentine. The Marlins seem to prefer a big name as they enter their beautiful but ill-placed and unnecessary new retractable dome stadium next year. E-Rod is doing a very solid job. But then the same could have been said for previous Marlins managers Joe Girardi and Fredi Gonzalez. It's a tough crowd of one that runs this team, the owner Jeffrey Loria. And it wasn't a great sign that hitting coach John Mallee has already been dispatched. The Marlins are still a game over .500 after an eight-game losing streak, but Loria was expecting much more, per usual.
3. Jim Leyland, Tigers. Leyland is likely to make it back, but there are no guarantees. He is in the final year of his contract following a so-so 2010 season, and the expectations were raised by high-cost signings such as Victor Martinez and Joaquin Benoit. With the White Sox and Twins starting slowly, they have a real shot at the AL Central and sit pretty now at 34-28, only a game behind the upstart Indians. Leyland's legendary status can't hurt him, either, but the Tigers free-spending owner Mike Ilitch wants results.
4. Ozzie Guillen, White Sox. His 2012 option was picked up very early by his bosses, probably to avoid any controversy. But Guillen still managed to publicly raise the issue of him being fired numerous times, creating an unnecessary sideshow, scuttling the very reason for the early pickup and annoying said bosses. He is seemingly correctly seen as a brilliant baseball mind who is a complete pain as an employee. The Marlins are known to love Guillen, so maybe the White Sox can finally work out a deal for him to go home to South Florida (he lives in Golden Beach) short of the original request of young stud Logan Morrison. White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf always has loved Guillen, but with Guillen's stormy relationship with GM Ken Williams and the team's unexpectedly uninspired start, it's an outside possibility he could go elsewhere after the year. It's worth mentioning that the relationship between Williams and Guillen seems quite a bit better this year than last year, at least outwardly, as the rude remarks Guillen's renegade son Oney's made about Williams have subsided, at least for the moment, and the talent-laden team is playing much better lately and appears to be working its way into the race. The Sox are now 31-34, 5 1/2 games out in the AL Central.
5. Mike Quade, Cubs. It's only his first year, and he shouldn't have had to wait a lifetime for this seemingly impossible job. This abysmal start -- the Cubs are 25-36, fifth in the NL Central -- isn't his fault, as injuries and underperformance have undermined the lovable North Side team. But with GM Jim Hendry, the man who hired him, quite possibly in trouble himself, there's always that possibility a new GM would hire his own man. It wouldn't be fair. But that's how life goes sometimes.
• Yankees GM Brian Cashman isn't optimistic a top-of-the-rotation starter will be available. "I just don't see a No. 1 pitcher you can pinpoint,'' Cashman said. Instead, he believes teams looking for pitching help are going to have to gamble a change of scenery will help. Properly, pitching will be the Yankees' main focus, though their offense hasn't always been as consistent as expected. Cashman actually has had an excellent year in terms of acquisitions (Russell Martin, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Eric Chavez and Andrew Jones all have been efficient pickups), but he's going to need to make a few more to keep the Yankees in the expected divisional battle with Boston.
• The Yankees will seek a lefty reliever as well as a starting pitcher. "Boone Logan just isn't consistent enough with his breaking ball,'' one scout said of the Yankees' lone healthy left reliever.
• The Yankees are suggesting among themselves that Phil Hughes could be back in a month.
• The Red Sox also will seek lefty relief help.
• Boston believes Dustin Pedroia will be able to avoid knee surgery. What scared Pedroia was a lack of improvement in the knee over several days. But the hope is a bit of time off may help.
• Folks don't believe Boston will make a play for Mets shortstop Jose Reyes after spending big this past winter on Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. So the Crawford contract could actually hurt Reyes in that way. Boston people believe Jose Iglesias will prove to be their shortstop of the future, though a scout said, "his offense is behind is defense,'' and "he needs to be more patient at the plate.''
• The Mets are facing pressure to at least make a respectable effort to keep superstar Jose Reyes in the face of steep financial difficulties. Originally, team people were saying new GM Sandy Alderson was going to take an "analytical'' or even dispassionate approach. But the fans and media in New York have spoken, and there is a lot of passion for Reyes, who has been brilliant in his walk year and the Mets have about $40 million coming off the books (counting Reyes' contract).
• The Twins could be a team with lots to trade, depending on how things break for them in what seems like a wide-open AL Central division. They have the talent to contend when healthy, obviously, but at some point they might come to the conclusion they are too beat up to make it this year. And their front office is said by competitors to be a group willing to take a hard look at their situation, and to do what's right, even if that means trading a piece or two or more away.
• The A's also have relievers to deal and could be an early call for any team looking for bullpen help. Lefthander Craig Breslow, a Yale product from Connecticut, could help either the Yankees or Red Sox.
• The Pirates would have pieces to trade. But like a lot of teams, they are around .500. And .500 understandably means more to them than most since they haven't reached that mark for 18 straight years. Opposing execs wonder if the Pirates would be willing to trade useful pieces and thus signal to their fans that they are giving up -- that is, unless they fall well below the .500 mark.
• Competing execs say the Diamondbacks, who selected UCLA star Trevor Bauer and Oklahoma prep phenom Archie Bradley within the top 10 picks, had a great draft. Other winners are thought to include the Padres, Pirates, Rays and Red Sox.